I write this blog a few hours before I take off for Barcelona where I will be one of the invited speakers at a scoping conference organised by the United Nations University for the establishment of an International Institute for the Alliance of Civilisations. The UN Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) was set up in 2007 on the recommendation of a High Level Group Report (November 2006) that saw the critical importance of such forum managed out of the UN Secretary General office.
It's now more than five months since the so-called Arab Spring started in Tunisia. Since then, we've seen the toppling of two dictators (Tunisia and Egypt), the intensifying of conflict in three other countries (Libya, Yemen and Syria) and the ongoing unrest in a number of others (Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria).
Whilst Europe and the USA were slow to engage positively with the Tunisian and to a lesser extent the Egyptian revolutions, they are now trying to make up for lost opportunity by being more directly involved in the current civil war in Libya and more explicit condemnation of the Yemeni and Syrian handling f the popular protests.
Most seriously, however, has been the G8's economic package for Tunisia and Egypt announced yesterday, 27 May.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) Doha forum held on 2-4 May 2011 in Doha, Qatar was a unique opportunity to gauge how civil society organizations view the challenges of and opportunities for achieving intercultural understanding and social inclusion.
Overall, the discussions have highlighted the critical importance of the concept of ‘culture’ as a key dimension of not only intercultural relations but also human development in a very broad sense.
In particular, the workshops which were guided thematically by the plenary sessions, enabled us to appreciate and debate specific models of practice in the area of cultural diversity and intercultural relations situated within various local contexts.
The executive director of the venerable New York Times has come out fighting against Facebook and other social media.
Bill Keller has joined the conga line of commentators decrying the end of friendships and knowledge as we know it by arguing that much of the interaction on social media sites is “reductive and redundant”.
In an article in his paper, he suggested that “basically we are outsourcing our brains to the cloud.” Keller seeks to embolden his argument by quoting a conversation with writer Joshua Foer who told him that “This is the story of the next half-century, as we become effectively cyborgs.”
Religious indoctrination in schools
The decision of the Victorian government to provide an extra $200,000 a year to Access Ministries to further religious instruction in schools, and of the federal government to increase funding by $222 million for schools chaplaincy services should be revised in the light of recent revelations of the real proselytizing agenda of such programs (The Age, 13/5/2011).
It beggars belief that amateur and enthusiastic religious volunteers on the one hand, and theologically trained chaplains on the other would not engage in activities designed to move young people towards religious faith. What else could motivate their activities? The revelation of Dr Evonne Paddison’s agenda simply makes explicit what anyone who thinks critically about such issues can only assume. Not that such motivations are necessarily bad.
It is reasonably widely accepted that Osama bin Laden was able to stay in the Pakistan town of Abbottabad because he had the protection of Pakistan’s military, in particular its powerful Inter Services Intelligence organisation. It would have been all but impossible for bin Laden to have stayed in one place in Pakistan without the ISI knowing, implying it at least tolerated his presence. More likely, the ISI’s involvement was more active than mere tolerance.
The question is, then, no longer whether bin Laden had the active support of the ISI but why Pakistan’s premier intelligence organisation – from a country which is long-time ally of the United States – would host the US’s number one enemy on its soil. At risk is not just the defence relationship with the US but, more importantly, the major strategic deterrent to Pakistan’s principle enemy, India. It also risks the important, $7.5 billion, US aid budget to Pakistan.
A person who contributed to a discussion on East Timor recently wrote, regarding a leaked UN report that was critical of PM Xanana Gusmao’s increasing executive control of government:
“There is an eerie silence out there regarding the attacks contained in the UN report against the PM Gusmao from the many foreign academics, commentators and media who in 2006/07 vehemently condemned the FRETILIN Alkatiri first constitutional government for what they termed its anti-democratic, authoritarian, centralist, even Marxist practices and policies. Why is this so? Perhaps now that their preferred Timorese PM who is not a member of FRETILIN is in power they do not want to help draw attention to perceived or otherwise weaknesses.
Sushi, Sukiyaki and Skyhooks
When I first read an email from Sandra, our media person, saying “Abc radio 774 red symons would like to interview you re your blog and latest post”, my mind spun into two totally different directions. I immediately thought, “Me? On air? Nah ….” Although it was an honour to get such an offer from the ABC Melbourne’s breakfast show, I thought I wasn’t ready for that yet. The whaling dispute is a complex issue. How could I make my point in a short interview? Do I have enough and accurate information to speak about the dispute to the public? In addition, I had to do it in English, of course. I felt it was a bit risky.
Despite a clear and substantial increase in the amount and quality of information available to the modern consumer through globalisation, and communication advances, we still don’t always make decisions that are in our best interests, particularly in the areas where politicians and lawyers seem to spend a lot of time, such as financial, telecommunications, and even competition policy. So what can policy makers do to at least create an environment of better consumer outcomes?
The world of intelligence – spying to you and me – is by definition shrouded in secrecy, so that often what we know is limited or partial and the rest is, hopefully, what makes sense based on building up a longer term picture of events. The question of who knew what and how that was handled in the tracking of Osama bin Laden is a case in point.
It is known that the US had been tracking Osama bin Laden closely for the last few years, had known where his hideout was since last August and had been planning how to neutralise him since that time. We also know that massive bombs were considered as one option, but that a highly detailed raid by two units of special forces operatives was chosen instead.